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Issue 415 – September 30, 2014



Hi Andy,

A few issues back, on September 3rd (Issue 412), you ran a letter from an Eagle Scout who’d been sort of spun around the block instead of folks encouraging Scouting advancement. I don’t know if you’re taking names of people who agree with him and are willing to have their name published, but if you are, you can add me to the list. Thanks for publishing that letter.

At my own Eagle board of review, the chair of it asked me why I thought it’s important for a Scout to be trustworthy. I responded that my mom and her dad always said it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a lawyer to get to heaven, and Scouts need to do better than that. Luckily, all the reviewers cracked up! My dad later told me on the way home that the chair of the review was a chief corporate attorney, and the other reviewers were taking great pleasure razzing him about my answer. He must have had a pretty good sense of humor, because we shook hands when he congratulated me on becoming an Eagle Scout. Funny thing is, I ended up becoming a corporate lawyer myself… But I still stick to the answer I gave 44 years ago!

Moving on to something you may be interested in knowing… I’ve downloaded almost a hundred pages of your Q&A’s for use in moderating a new Senior Patrol Leader Roundtable I’m starting for my district. I’ve made photocopies and organized them by topic into 3-ring binders that I’ll be giving each SPL, along with several copies of the Troop Meeting Plan template and BSA “job description” cards from our Scout shop. Of course your attribution is included—In fact, I definitely want you to get acknowledged for your excellent answers, and I make sure to give the Scouts your issue number and date so they can find it online for themselves. Thanks! (Bob Elliott, Eagle Class of ’70, Northern Star Council, MN)
Dear Andy,

I know you’ve talked about this before, and I agree: It’s pretty dumb for a newly honored Eagle Scout to be photographed with his Eagle medal hanging over his Life rank badge. But often we don’t get anything back in time to get the cloth Eagle badge to him in time for his court of honor. Any “work-around” advice would be really appreciated! (Hal Facre, SM, Great Western Council)

You bet I’ve got a work-around for you. Before the court of honor, just take the Life badge off! This way, there’s absolutely no possibility of confusion and the Eagle medal will be even more visible and.
Dear Andy,

My son’s Life rank, in process of wrapping up his final merit badges for Eagle. An opportunity for an Eagle service project has presented itself, and he’s written up a proposal and shown it to his Scoutmaster. It looks good, but our Committee Chair has created a troop policy and work-flow process that says he can’t start or complete the service project without first having completed all required merit badges. Neither he nor I can find anything in BSA national advancement policies or procedures that say that. The GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT does, however, state that no individual, unit, district, or council can supersede national advancement policies. Granted, my own son is 14 and has plenty of time to do what the Committee Chair is insisting on, but our troop also has a 17 year-old Life Scout who, because of this troop policy, has virtually no chance of making it to Eagle if he has to do it this way. Can you confirm this and, if so, what course of action would you recommend. I’m thinking of asking our committee as a whole to review this policy. (Name & Council Withheld)

Requirements for every rank, including Eagle, can be completed in any order. There isn’t and never has been any national policy to the contrary. It is entirely inappropriate for this troop to impose such a “rule” as completing all merit badges before being “allowed” to engage in the Eagle service project. A Scout can start his Eagle project the very next morning after his successful Life rank board of review, if he so chooses. The basis for this is in the language of the requirement itself: “While a Life Scout…” This is the only stipulation.

If this troop’s leaders have trouble with this, they need to immediately write directly to the BSA’s national advancement team at and get themselves right. If they refuse to change this rule of theirs and refuse to obtain confirmation of what I’m telling you, this is obviously the wrong troop for any young man and I urge you to run, don’t walk, away from that troop and to one that gets stuff like this right. And your son should take all his friends with him, too.

As for the 17 year old, I urge you to immediately contact your Council Advancement Chair, describe the situation and how this is no fault of the Scout, and request an extension for him.
Dear Andy,

I’m a Webelos II/Arrow of Light Den Leader looking forward to our pack’s Blue & Gold Banquet when my Scouts will receive their Arrow of Light rank and graduate into a Boy Scout troop.

I found an “Arrow of Honor” online at I’ve seen lots of variations on this, specifically with regards to colors of the stripes and layouts (e.g., putting the Bobcat stripe in front of the Tiger stripe, or having the Arrow of Light be toward the arrowhead vs. the back toward the feathers). Is there any sort of “standard.” or is this pretty much for a pack to choose? (Chris Harmon, WDL)

Although certainly “unofficial,” as are all such non-BSA products, this is sure a cool one, and comes with a great guide (IMHO). Back in the day, we just sorta made it up as we went along and didn’t necessarily match, year-to-year. This gives you something that has “legs” and will help future generations of your pack’s volunteers, parents, and Cubs from wigging out over how to get it all on a single dowel in some sensible way.
Dear Andy,

We’ve got two different opinions on when and how to wear an Order of the Arrow sash at a court of honor. One says that the OA sash is worn only if it’s an OA event or run by an OA ceremonial team, and that OA sashes and merit badge sashes are never worn simultaneously. The second is saying that, at a formal ceremony like a court of honor, the full uniform should be worn, including both sashes. Both of these opinions are held by different OA Vigil members who have been Scoutmasters and are now serving as professional District Executives. It’s also being debated by the adult volunteers in our troop. One of our Assistant Scoutmasters told a Scout that he could wear one or the other, but not both, but the merit badge sash is mandatory for courts of honor. Immediately, one of the D.E.s pulled the ASM aside to tell him that he’s wrong, and then told the Scout he should wear both sashes. The other D.E., who was also there, got into a friendly but intense discussion on this with the first D.E. and our troop volunteers and parents…during the reception! I’m looking for clarification from an independent voice. Is there a definitive BSA statement on the proper wearing of the merit badge sash and/or the OA sash at a court of honor or other ceremony or activity where the full uniform is expected, or should the OA sash be worn only at or for OA functions or while specifically serving as an OA representative at an event? Is there any sort of national standard or is this a local council, lodge, or troop preference? Or doesn’t it matter, one way or the other? Can you help here? (Name & Council Withheld)

I’m sorry you’re getting bounced around by the individual opinions of folks who ought to know better, especially when the BSA has for years described the standards to follow regarding both sashes. In fact, in March 2014, the BSA published a blog on this very subject, and of course this is the one to follow…with no “local variations.” This is a good thing, because stuff like this is 99.999% never subject to either opinion or discussion.

To hit the high points: The merit badge sash is worn for formal occasions only, is worn over the right shoulder only, and wearing or not wearing it is the Scout’s option since it’s an accessory to but not a mandatory part of the official uniform. OA sashes, on the other hand, are worn only at OA events or when representing the OA (in short, for courts of honor and such, leave it home). Finally, both sashes are never worn simultaneously and neither sash is ever worn on the belt or over the left shoulder.
Hi Andy,

Would you please provide some additional clarification to your commentary in the past concerning a Scoutmaster requiring a Scout to add work to his proposed Eagle Scout service project? On one occasion you stated that the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook notes that a Scout’s helpers “…are expected to be unskilled” but I haven’t found that anywhere in the workbook. While in many cases the Scout’s helpers might be unskilled, it isn’t necessary or required that they’re unskilled or that they’re youth. As you said “…if the work gets done by others that is a success.” In another column you mentioned that a Scoutmaster was correct in a case in which there wasn’t sufficient work for the Scout’s helpers to do, but then you said that the Scoutmaster should not be adding to the Scout’s own idea and that the original project proposal should have been more than enough to stand on its own. This, however, left me with the impression that you were suggesting the Scout still needed to do additional work developing his project to meet the requirement. If the original project was sufficient to stand on its own, then what else would the Scout need do? (Wayne Huddleston, District Committee Member, Mid-America Council)

First, let’s understand that I don’t write BSA policy. Further, I don’t “interpret” BSA policy. My responsibility, as a Commissioner, is to help Scouts and Scouters apply BSA policy.

Your questions are all interesting, but they’ve been taken out of the context of the entire Q&A in that particular column. Because I don’t “blog” but, instead, deal with specific questions, it’s often inappropriate to take a statement out of its context and attempt to generalize it. This was the situation in that particular Q&A and I’d suggest you re-read it in that light. I’m suggesting this because that particular Scout’s situation was a bloody mess and the Scoutmaster—although well-intentioned, I’m sure—wasn’t helping; he was making the whole thing messier. That said, I’ve further distilled a couple of your questions, and here are some insights that might help…

The BSA does state that the labor for such projects shouldn’t require any special skills—anyone should be able to do the work. Dig around and you’ll find this. The thinking behind this is obvious: The BSA doesn’t want Life scouts contracting with licensed craftsmen to do the work; the BSA wants the Scout to show the sort of leadership necessary that friends will show up to help out, and the judgment to know which friends to ask.

As an aside to the above, at a board of review some years back, I asked the Eagle candidate what was the biggest “lesson” he learned from his service project, and his answer was poignant: “I learned that, if I promise somebody I’ll do something, I absolutely will honor what I’ve committed to doing.” I asked what prompted that, and he told us, “I asked my friends and they all said yes, and then none of them showed up. I was so bummed out. I couldn’t believe they’d let me down like they had. It was awful. So I promised myself right then and there that I’d never do that to anyone, ever.”

A Scout’s helpers can be anybody willing to help him who has the capability of helping. Fellow Scouts, classmates, neighbors, relatives, teammates—these all count. But, obviously, the Scout has to apply good judgment. If Mom or Dad is going to take charge of his project, then it’s a good idea to include them out. Same with Uncle Fargus, who likes nothing better than being in charge.

The Scoutmaster’s biggest error was in making statements and thereby failing to ask questions, like: “Okay, so tell me…How many helpers are you going to need, and what are they going to be doing?” and “Hmmm… There doesn’t seem to be much that you’ll be doing in actually leading the project. Can you think of any ways you can expand your leadership role?”

As Scouters guiding youth, when we make statements as if they were pronouncement, we sound just like every other adult “in charge” in a young man’s life. The way we can stand out as different, become more approachable, and truly help young people, is by asking well thought-through questions for which answers rise from within the young man. This way, he will “own” the ideas instead of ideas being poured into the top of his head.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 415 – 9/30/2014 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2014]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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